Ann Arbor’s rat poisoned produce brings to mind the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror case

News tonight that a young man has been apprehended by the FBI in Ann Arbor for apparently spraying a mixture of hand cleaner and rat poison on grocery store produce, has led to a great deal of speculation online as to what might cause a person to do something like this. While I suspect we’ll discover the guilty party, whomever he might be, just wanted to cause others pain, and, in doing so, feel more powerful and in control of his own life, it’s difficult for me to read about a case like this and not immediately think back to 1984, when 751 people in a relatively small Oregon community of The Dalles were poisoned by followers of spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in order to keep them from the polls come election day, when two of Rajneesh’s candidates would be on the ballot for seats on the local circuit court. The following, for those of you who aren’t aware of the case, comes from Wikipedia.


The 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack was the food poisoning of 751 individuals in The Dalles, Oregon, through the deliberate contamination of salad bars at ten local restaurants with salmonella. A leading group of followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho) had hoped to incapacitate the voting population of the city so that their own candidates would win the 1984 Wasco County elections. The incident was the first and single largest bioterrorist attack in United States history. The attack is one of only two confirmed terrorist uses of biological weapons to harm humans since 1945, the other being the 2001 anthrax attacks across the USA.

Having previously gained political control of Antelope, Oregon, Rajneesh’s followers, who were based in nearby Rajneeshpuram, sought election to two of the three seats on the Wasco County Circuit Court that were up for election in November 1984. Fearing they would not gain enough votes, Rajneeshpuram officials decided to incapacitate voters in The Dalles, the largest population center in Wasco County. The chosen biological agent was Salmonella enterica Typhimurium, which was first delivered through glasses of water to two County Commissioners and then, on a larger scale, at salad bars and in salad dressing.

As a result of the attack, 751 people contracted salmonellosis, 45 of whom were hospitalized. There were no fatalities. Although an initial investigation by the Oregon Public Health Division and the Centers for Disease Control did not rule out deliberate contamination, the agents and fact of contamination were only discovered a year later. On February 28, 1985, Congressman James H. Weaver gave a speech in the United States House of Representatives in which he “accused the Rajneeshees of sprinkling salmonella culture on salad bar ingredients in eight restaurants”. At a press conference in September 1985, Rajneesh accused several of his followers of participation in this and other crimes, including an aborted plan in 1985 to assassinate a United States Attorney, and he asked State and Federal authorities to investigate. Oregon Attorney General David B. Frohnmayer set up an Interagency Task Force, composed of Oregon State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and executed search warrants in Rajneeshpuram. A sample of bacteria matching the contaminant that had sickened the town residents was found in a Rajneeshpuram medical laboratory. Two leading Rajneeshpuram officials were convicted on charges of attempted murder and served 29 months of 20-year sentences in a minimum-security federal prison.

And, no, I’m not suggesting that something similar has just taken place in Ann Arbor. I just find the 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack case to be incredibly fascinating, and thought I’d take the opportunity to remind folks that, once upon a time, a cult almost took over a small Oregon community through the salad bar deployment of salmonella.

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  1. New York for Bernie
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Damn, I really wish that you had posted this a few weeks ago.

  2. Kit
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    I thought you were going to suggest that he did this in order to influence the outcome of yesterday’s special education millage.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    There is a mid-sized religious cult led by a former Rajneeshiite just to the west of Ann Arbor (Tsogyelgar/White Lotus Farms), so it’s not entirely off-base to suggest a connection with the ’84 bioterrorism attack. #rumorMongering #noActualEvidenceToSupportThis

  4. Jules
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Mark, do you know that he re-marketed himself as Osho and has made a huge comeback, even after death?

    It’s really gross how many people have been taken in by “Osho” but have no idea about the past stuff. I know someone who was really into him but didn’t know wtf I was talking about when I told her about Bagwhan.

  5. Meta
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Relevant video:

  6. conspiracy theorist
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Now I’m wondering if the local farm with ties to the Oregon group tried to sell produce at those stores. I know it’s extremely unlikely that there’s a connection, but how fascinating would it be if there was one?

  7. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    If there is a connection then Mark’s transformation into Columbo will be almost complete.

  8. Mr. Y
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    They keep calling it “mouse poison” in the press. Is there a distinction between mouse poison and rat poison, or did someone just decide that saying “rat poison” would cause a panic?

  9. Al Hoff
    Posted May 4, 2016 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    a subset of those Rajneesh (aka “orange”) people lived in my block in the 1970s. before the move to Oregon. I got a very nice pair of silk pajamas at their garage sale once — blue, so they couldn’t wear them, I guess. we used to laugh that they acted all poor, but had an orange (natch) BMW.

  10. Erika Nelson
    Posted May 5, 2016 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    I had no idea about this event. Interesting, especially because we are in Oregon now. We are staying in The Dalles area in a few weeks, on our way to Montana.

  11. Mr. X
    Posted May 5, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Just don’t eat from any salad bars, Erika.

  12. Erika Nelson
    Posted May 5, 2016 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Here I was, getting nervous about Grizzly bears, and it could just be the dang salad bars that gets me instead. Life is like a box a chocolates… and some of them are poisoned.

  13. Mr. Y
    Posted May 6, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    The 29 year old arrested in the recent mouse poison case was arraigned in court yesterday. Most shocking to me was the fact that his family gives him $3,000 a month in spending money.

    Detroit News:

    Ann Arbor — A 29-year-old Ann Arbor man suspected of spraying food with a rodent poison mixture at Ann Arbor-area grocery stores was arraigned Thursday in district court.

    On Thursday, authorities brought charges against 29-year-old Kyle Andrew Bessemer of Ann Arbor in 15th District Court. He faces four felony counts of poisoning food or water, carrying potential penalties of as much as $15,000 each and as much as 20 years in prison.

    Bessemer’s charges stem from visits he allegedly made on April 24 to local groceries, including Whole Foods at 990 Eisenhower Parkway and Meijer at 3145 Ann Arbor Road.

    Police also are investigating the possibility Bessemer may have committed similar crimes at several other locations.

    Clad in an orange jail uniform and white T-shirt, Bessemer appeared without an attorney Thursday. A not-guilty plea was entered on his behalf by Judge Elizabeth Hines.

    He provided Hines with short answers to questions about his financial situation. Bessemer indicated he is unemployed and that family members pay his rent and provide him as much as $3,000 a month in spending money.

  14. facebook stalker
    Posted May 6, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Rat poison isn’t cheap.

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